Jersey Shore Half Marathon – Oct 2014


It seems like I am destined to run a half marathon once every two years. So after running my very first one in Mumbai back in January 2010 and then finishing with a better time in Delhi in 2012, it was high time I ran one this year, if only to keep the arithmetic progression going. The fact that my finish time doesn’t seem to follow any patterns of improvement is a matter of shame but I take consolation in the fact that at least I kept running intermittently for the past 4-5 years. What began as a mere experiment has turned out into a routine work out activity and assumed an almost meditative character.

I finished Mumbai HM in 2 hours 31 mins. I bettered this time by almost 15 minutes in Delhi. So in the third running event, I wanted to at least maintain the last record if not better it. But alas, life had taken over, yada, yada, yada and I was to finish with a timing worse than the last time. My preparation was so abysmal that I had begun to question my judgement in wishing to run the third half marathon a week before the “M” day. Having finished the first two respectfully, pulling out of the third one was not an option and that’s how I found myself on the beach of Sandy Hook in New Jersey on that windy day of October 5, 2014.

Sometimes the most random choices in life result into things that are a lot nicer than what you had expected. In July, when I was trying to make up my mind as to which one of the many different Half Marathons I should participate in, I had honed down on Sandy Hook HM because at $35 registration fees, it was the cheapest of all the options out there. Little did I know that where I was going to run was an enchanting beach town with ocean waves hugging the serene shoreline. When I reached the marathon venue with my sweet aunt who had accompanied me in the hour and half long commute to Sandy Hook that morning, a strong wind was blowing, the town was silent, gulls were visible above the waters and the mercury was at about 15 degree Celsius. From the parking lot, I could see the buzz of the runners in some distance. I went and joined the crowd to collect the running bib and the large “Small” sized T-Shirt. All of us were getting so cold by standing in the queue that we couldn’t wait for the running to begin. At least we wouldn’t be shivering once our hearts started pumping more blood.

At about 8:45 a.m., I went and stood among the runners at the Starting line, waiting for the Starting shot to be fired. As usual, some runners were going through the warm-up routine, some were exchanging playful jokes with their running buddies and my nervousness was getting betrayed by my double checking on the shoelaces. Everyone was raring to go but this was a much smaller crowd compared to what I had experienced in Mumbai and Delhi and as such, excitement levels were not comparable. Nonetheless, there was that familiar feeling of discomfort just before the running begins – one that generally vanishes after 10 minutes in to the race.

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The shot was fired and off we went. I had no idea how the route was going to be. Except a hurried look at the route map the previous night, I had not done any homework. Hell, owing to my usual strokes of procrastination, most of the preparation for this race had turned out to be mental rather than physical. I was running the race on the sole basis that I had done it before and except for some mediocre running practice in the three weeks leading up to the “M” day,  I was completely out of practice.

I felt good in the first 15 minutes – not comfortable but good enough. From experience, I knew that it generally takes my body about 20-25 minutes to get in the groove, after which time I can run comfortably for the next 30 minutes at least. Somehow, my mind works in terms of time rather than distance but that may be because I have never really been a fast paced runner – I have always been a slow and steady paced jogger. I knew that I had stuffed enough carbs in my body in the last 24 hours and all I needed to do was to keep myself hydrated and prevent the abdominal cramps from setting in. The latter was out of my control but the first was not and throughout the race, I ensured that my mouth was not going dry at any time. I figured that I could pace myself at 1 mile every 10 minutes in order to finish the race in less than 150 minutes. While I was going through these mental calculations in the first 15 minutes of the beginning of the race, I noticed that a fellow (probably in his mid 30s) was  keeping a consistent pace ahead of me. The gap between the two of us was short enough for me to feel that I can keep tailing this guy. I have always benefited from the practice of tailing someone from a comfortable distance behind that person – it keeps me from getting distracted by those overtaking me. Only caveat is that I might get slowed down if the person I am following slows down. But I hoped that the clock displaying the split time at the end of every mile would help me keep on the track.

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The route began parallel to the beach for the first 10 minutes and then turned right in to  Gateway National Recreation Area. We ran on the tarmac for the entire 13.1 miles of the race (To my relief, we did not have to run on the sandy beach – it would have been a nightmare to do so!). The route was flat throughout and I don’t remember panting due to a steep gradient at any point in the race. Surroundings were scenic in that the route was lined by trees on both sides for the most part. For a couple of miles in the beginning and the end, we also ran with the beautiful ,expansive beach on one side of us. The beauty of running along a beach was marred by the fact that a strong wind was blowing the whole time, almost set to whoosh us all in the air – okay i am exaggerating but it was really very strong, creating a lot of resistance while running. I wished constantly for the wind to die down  but it was not to heed my wishes. After 6.5 miles, The route was looping back towards where it had started. By the halfway mark, I had overtaken the person I had been tailing till then and had succeeded in maintaining a steady pace of a mile every 10 minutes. After that, my lack of preparation began to catch up with me a little by little. I could feel my pace slowing down and the split timings at every mile after the 7 mile mark confirmed that feeling. Ultimately, i began to concede that I might have to let go of my target finish time of 130-135 minutes and just focus on getting done in less than 150 minutes. The last 5 miles were unending and tested my will power. Finally, I was back on the 2 miles patch which would take me to the finish line and I started to feel a little relieved that  I was not going to have to give up after all. Soon, it was all going to be over and I was going to sit and relax for a long time. I think I was almost salivating at the thought of being able to sit peacefully and finished the race in that eager feeling of just wanting to get something done as fast as one can (although I had slowed down considerable by this time). For the last 13 miles, cheering by strangers who had lined up  along the route had helped me keep up a positive face. Their encouragement, cheerful hi-fives and helpful volunteering had gotten me through the race. As I neared the finish line, my aunt spotted me and started to shout out words of encouragement and praise.

I finished with a timing of 2 hours 24 minutes. Quite bad compared to my last one; but still within the dreaded figure of 150 minutes!

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Me at the finish line

Me at the finish line

Feeling quite exhausted, I went to the beach with my aunt and spent some quiet time letting the sand play over my tired feet. I felt good and content. Gulls were pecking in the sand a few feet away from us. We spent a few more minutes in that quietude, realizing fully well that the next day would bring all the agonies that a Monday brings for any working person. Soon, it was time to go back home and to the mundane routine.

Sandy Hook Beach

Sandy Hook Beach

Sandy Hook Beach

Seagulls

My aunt Medha

My aunt Medha

Jersey Shore Half Marathon Website:

http://jerseyshorehalfmarathon.com/

 

 

 

 

 

Birds of Yellowstone – May 2014


Among the avian creatures, perching birds happen to be my favorites. They are tiny, cute, colorful and present almost everywhere. I get fascinated and amused looking at birds as they perch, ruffle their feathers, flip their wings, chirp or sing. Knowing their names is a pastime I indulge in every now and then and doing it takes me a little closer to their world.

It was no surprise then that I clicked loads of pictures of the winged beauties in my trip to Yellowstone National Park in the summer of 2014. To be honest, this was a very rushed trip. Moreover,  I spent most of the time in the car, looping around the park for two days. So I didn’t see as much bird life as one would have expected. Still, whatever little I saw, gave me a good enough glimpse and I can’t wait for another trip to the YNP.

The park, a heaven for the wild flora and fauna, was a treat to the eyes in many respects.  Just before starting my exploration on the first day of the trip, our hotel was visited by a brewer’s blackbird and a black-billed magpie. That day, as I explored the area around Mammoth Springs, walking on the boardwalk connecting several hot springs in the area, I repeatedly passed by five birds: Mountain blue bird – male and female, chipping sparrow, yellow-rumped warbler, killdeer and violet green swallow. During the later part of the day when I was going around the upper and lower loop of the park, I saw many more birds but sadly, I couldn’t photograph them. So what follows ahead is a series of pictures that I was able to capture in my hurried trip in the park. Although this first trip was full of amazing sights, a more elaborate trip is very much in the bucket list.

 

mountain blue bird male

mountain blue bird male

Mountain bluebird male

Mountain bluebird male

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Weekend Climbing in Pensylvania


Destination: High Rocks State Park ( Ralph Stover State Park)

Location: 150 Tory Rd, Bucks County Pennsylvinia

Time of the Year: Summer 2014

Summer was the perfect time to move from Indiana to New Jersey and immediately after I had settled down with the routine of my new 9-5 job, I began looking up online to find climbing meetup groups.

New Jersey is not that exciting when it comes to rock climbing; but it’s probably not that bad either. There are climbing areas to the north, at the Gunks and then to the south in Pennsylvania state. After browsing through quite a few meetups based out of New York and Pennsylvania, I ended up on a meetup named ‘Red Rock Climbers’. Founded and kept active by a very enthusiastic mountaineer and rock climber named Arnulf Krualla, this meetup climbs in High Rocks State Park in Pennsylvania every weekend. I had met up with one of the climbers in this group at one of my indoor climbing gym sessions around Princeton and after asking with her a few questions about the group and safety of climbing, I felt assured that it would be alright to go with this group, even though I would hardly know anyone.

“This(High Rocks State Park) area has a long history of climbing activity, its been the mainstay for many climbers for many years and is considered a traditional area since most routes are protected using traditional gear. Winter conditions can be very mild in this sheltered southeast facing valley. Summer can be very hot but there’s always the river for a dip to cool off.” (rockclimbing.com)

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Boulder, Colorado – December 2013 – Part III


It had been two and a half days since landing in Colorado and we hadn’t really climbed up any hills or hillocks. But Ajinkya made sure that Chinu and I don’t go back home without stepping foot on the summit of a small mountain by deciding to take us on a hike to Mount Sanitas, a place where all Boulderites love to jog, hike or just walk their dog in the morning.

A group of us took the bus (public transport) from Ajinkya’s home to the point closest to the trailhead. Bus dropped us about 8 blocks away from the trailhead for Mount Sanitas. It was a bright sunny day and the weather was pleasant. Mount Sanitas got its name from Boulder Colorado Sanitarium and Hospital, built in the late 1800’s. According to the government website, “The sanitorium was one of a series of John Harvey Kellogg’s Battle Creek, Michigan, Sanatoriums.  Kellogg, a Seventh-Day Adventist, was one of the leaders of a growing movement in ‘health building and training’ called the Western Health Reform Institute.  The institute promoted ‘hydro-therapy, exercise and a vegetarian diet’ as the way to good health.”

At the trailhead

At the trailhead

At the trailhead

At the trailhead


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Boulder, Colorado – December 2013 – Part II


If you have read my previous post, you would know that the first couple of days in Boulder were just normal touristy sigh-seeing and I did not really step in to the hills. What’s the whole point of going to Colorado if one doesn’t get to do that? Luckily, Ajinkya had planned a visit to Chautauqua Park. As the name suggests, this park is at the location of Colorado Chautauqua (Chautauqua was a popular adult education movement in USA in late 19th and early 20th century) – one of the few continuously operating Chautauquas operating in USA and has been made a National Historic Landmark. The beautiful park is among the hills and is close to Chautauqua Dining Hall and Auditorium. Although the park is very close to Boulder and public bus rides are available, we did not have enough time to hike on the trails in the park; So we just wandered about the grassy terrain, soaking in the Sun and clicking pictures. Post afternoon, we wanted to be at a place called Netherland.

at Chautauqua Park

at Chautauqua Park

at Chautauqua Park

at Chautauqua Park

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Boulder, Colorado – December 2013 – Part I


If you are in the Unites States of America and happen to be a nature and adventure sports lover, then a trip to Colorado will always be in your bucket list. A good friend of mine happened to be studying at University of Colorado, Boulder in the December of last year and although winter is not the season to be in Colorado except for skiing, I decided to go there towards the end of December as that was my only vacation time. Sure, the cold was biting  with a lot of snow and skiing was sadly not in my itinerary, the trip let me see a small part of the land of my dreams for the first time and the first experience filled me with joy! Part I of this series of posts narrates the first two days of touristy wanderings in Boulder and Denver.

Ajinkya, at whose place Chinu and I were crashing, took us on a cold, windy bike ride the evening we landed in Denver and then reached Boulder ( about 1.5 hours of bus journey away). Biking in this small university town nestled among hills was fun but it made my ear lobes and hands pretty numb! The campus of the university is rustic and beautiful and from the terrace of one of the buildings, I got my first panoramic glimpse of hills surrounding the town. It was a cloudy day but on my last day of the trip, Boulder was blessed with sunshine and town looked prettier. From the streets, one could see Flatirons – the five large rock slabs near Boulder. These rock formations came in to existence as long ago as about 296 million years ago and true to the name, they look like an upended flatiron(Wikipedia).  After a walk along Boulder Creek, the primary water flow in the town, we took a stroll along Pearl Street, home to a number of colorful shops and restaurants.

Boulder on a shiny day

Boulder on a shiny day- Just entering the town

One of the buildings in the campus

One of the buildings in the Universoty of Colorado, Boulder campus

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Sport Climbing at Shelf Road, Colorado – March 2014


Have you ever climbed rocks when flakes of snow are flying around you? Have you ever looked down upon a valley from the top of a cliff, after climbing 80 feet up on it? Have you ever slept inside a tent when it’s snowing all around you? Have you known the beauty of an orange sunset that showers the snow-capped peaks with its dying rays and mesmerizes you into staring at them till the darkness falls upon you, replacing the blankness of sky with star-studded awesomeness? Have you gone out with a group of strangers and yet, experienced a warm camaraderie developed quickly through rigors of climbing and living in harsh weather elements, with dirt in your hair & sweat on the clothes? My week-long rock climbing trip at Shelf Road, Colorado was nuanced with such beautiful moments and was one of my best climbing experiences in the outdoors.

Called a sport climber’s mecca, Shelf Road has about 1000 bolted routes on pocketed limestone, with difficulty rating varying from 5.5 to 5.13. In our 5 days long stay, we climbed in 3 of the 6-7 areas in which climbing at Shelf Road is divided. Everyone got a chance to push his/her limits by starting with routes they were comfortable with and slowly graduating to more difficult ones.

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Enjoying the first views of the Cactus Cliff from the Bank

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Cactus Cliff

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Backyard Birds of Indiana


Saturday morning saw a little drop in the chilliness of the air. From -15 degree Celsius the previous day, temperature had risen to +1 degree.

A pleasant sunshine must have invited  birds out of their nests;  cuz I woke up to a lot of sweet chirping in my backyard.

Blessed with a cozy house with a smallish forest ( okay, I like to call it a forest), I feel lucky to have been able to spot these birds in a span of half an hour.

Hope you enjoy these glimpses of Backyard Birds of Indiana ( Bloomington), as much as I enjoyed running behind the beautiful creatures.

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Blue Jay

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Northern Cardinal-female

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Camping in Charles C. Deam Wilderness – Sept 2013


Life is mostly a sinusoidal wave. Sometimes you hit a plateau and keep going until you either take a deep plunge or opt for a steep uphill climb. That way, plateau also is a fun place to be in. At least it leads you to something more exciting. But what happens when you find yourself in a – how do I say it without sounding dull – Plain?

I live in Bloomington, South Indiana – relatively the most hilly part of Indiana state. One would imagine hills rolling away into horizon or something of that sort when I say that. At least those accustomed to the majestic Himalayan heights or the rugged beauty of Sahyadris would do so. But all those folks will be in for a disappointment; because this part of the United States just does not know what real mountains are like. May be folks in Denver know better. Alas, I can’t be there right now.

But fear not, for every place has its own charm and it would be idiotic to miss out on the same just because you could not find your 18000 feet high snow clad peaks here. Bloomington, the county seat of Monroe County,  happens to be only 30 minutes away from an eponymous lake. This lake is the biggest one in the state and is surrounded by forests on all sides. The whole forested area has been divided into various wilderness zones and one fine weekend in September , we decided to camp in one of those. Charles C. Deam Wilderness, which was to become our destination, encompasses 13000 acres of Hoosier National Forest and plays hosts to multiple hiking and horse riding trails.

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